For viewers who think movies should be more like plotless IMAX films,
director Martin Campbell provides a feast for your eyes in the 35mm
motion picture, VERTICAL LIMIT. Your brain will likely feel starved,
but your thumbs will get lots of exercise as you twiddle them waiting
for the inevitable disaster to strike so that the story can finally get
The producers should get their money back from writers Robert King
(CUTTHROAT ISLAND) and Terry Hayes (PAYBACK) since the script is
laughably weak. Characters are killed off before we ever get to know
them enough to care about their demise. Their rapid deaths, of course,
are done so that we can have as many dramatic incidents as possible.
You don't go "wow" during an IMAX film for the dialog. You do so when
the IMAX movie makes you experience some vicarious moment of terror.
Easily, the most ridiculous part of VERTICAL LIMIT is the proclivity of
the characters to die for the greater good. For most people, the idea
of suicide as a way to help someone else isn't something they could do
easily or ever.
After an opening reminiscent of the opening sequence of MISSION:
IMPOSSIBLE II, the movie cuts to 3 years later when Peter and Annie
Garrett (Chris O'Donnell and Robin Tunney), brother and sister climbers,
are in the Himalayas. Except for their displays of physical strength,
neither O'Donnell nor Tunney gives much to their parts. This isn't a
movie that stands up to much logical examination. Several of the film's
sequences, while impressive, appear quite impossible.
The only real acting of any merit in the movie comes from Scott Glenn,
as toeless, recluse Montgomery Wick. Labeled a "lunatic" by some, Wick
has spent the last four years climbing K2 alone, while looking for the
body of his dead wife. Wick is the only climber in the story who can
scale K2's extreme heights without ever being out of breath.
Surprisingly, only once does any climber, certainly not the
indefatigable Wick, resort to using bottled oxygen.
Bill Paxton, as Elliot Vaughn, plays a megalomaniac, clearly patterned
after Richard Branson of the Virgin Atlantic fortune. One assumes,
however, that Branson would not be willing to kill people in his search
for thrills and for his own greater glory. Although Paxton appears to
be having fun, he delivers one of his weakest performances.
After hosting "the highest party in the world," Elliot is off on an
assault on K2 with Annie as a member of his team. The party looks like
a drinking scene from a generic teen comedy. Gosh, isn't mountain
climbing fun? The story even includes a pair of Australian stoner dude
brothers, who like to sun themselves in the buff, but who are really
Peter, deciding that Elliot has chosen the wrong time of day to begin
the climb, asks Annie, "What does the mountain say?" It's that kind of
My personal favorite among the many ridiculous aspects of the movie is
its ability to telegraph key twists with absolute precision. Carefully
choosing a day in which their bank of computers has determined that it
is 82% likely to have good weather, Elliot and company start their climb
in glorious sunshine. Without any computers whatsoever, exactly what do
you calculate would be the chance that a storm will come out of nowhere?
With its sweeping music and sometimes stunning cinematography, the film
does have its rewards. But if you're looking solely for visual thrills,
go for a real IMAX film, not an ersatz substitute.
VERTICAL LIMIT runs a long 2:06. It is rated PG-13 for intense
life/death situations and brief strong language and would be fine for
kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes